In early March, an estimated 7,500 American combat troops will travel to Norway to join thousands of soldiers from other NATO countries in a massive mock battle with imagined invading forces from Russia.

The simulated engagement goes by the name of Exercise Cold Response 2020. Like this, NATO forces will “conduct multinational joint exercises with a high-intensity combat scenario in demanding winter conditions.

As a start, it’s being staged above the Arctic Circle, far from any previous traditional NATO battlefield, and it raises to a new level the possibility of a great-power conflict that might end in a nuclear exchange and mutual annihilation.

At its start, marines from the United States and the United Kingdom will practice massive amphibious landings along Norway’s coast, much as they do in similar exercises elsewhere in the world.

After collecting tanks and other heavy weaponry prepositioned in caves in Norway’s interior, the marines will proceed toward the country’s far-northern Finnmark region to help Norwegian forces stave off Russian forces supposedly pouring across the border.

From then on, the two sides will engage in – to use current Pentagon terminology – high-intensity combat operations under Arctic conditions (a type of warfare not seen on such a scale since World War II).

To understand just how risky any NATO-Russian clash in Norway’s far north would be, consider the region’s geography and the strategic factors that have led Russia to concentrate so much military power there.

The Barents Sea, an offshoot of the Arctic Ocean, bounds them both. This remote region – approximately 1,300 kilometers from Oslo and 1,450km from Moscow – has in recent years become a vortex of economic and military activity.

Once prized as a source of vital minerals, especially nickel, iron ore and phosphates, this remote area is now the center of extensive oil and natural-gas extraction.

With temperatures rising in the Arctic twice as fast as anywhere else on the planet and sea ice retreating ever further north every year, offshore fossil-fuel exploration has become increasingly viable.

As a result, large reserves of oil and natural gas – the very fuels whose combustion is responsible for those rising temperatures – have been discovered beneath the Barents Sea, and both countries are seeking to exploit those deposits.

For Russia, even more significant oil and gas prospects lie further east in the Kara and Pechora Seas and on the Yamal Peninsula, a slender extension of Siberia.

The only practical way to get that output to market is via specially designed icebreaker-tankers sent through the Barents Sea past northern Norway.

The exploitation of Arctic oil and gas resources and their transport to markets in Europe and Asia have become major economic priorities for Moscow as its hydrocarbon reserves below the Arctic Circle begin to dry up.

Aside from its Baltic and Black Sea ports, accessible to the Atlantic only via passageways easily obstructed by NATO, the sole Russian harbor with unfettered access to the Atlantic Ocean is at Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula.

Russia already possesses the largest number of modern cruisers and destroyers (10) of any Russian fleet, along with 22 attack submarines and numerous support vessels.

Also in the Murmansk area are dozens of advanced MiG fighter planes and a wide assortment of anti-aircraft defense systems.

Threatening Russia’s security is the construction of a US radar station on the Norwegian island of Vardø about 65 km from the Kola Peninsula.

Any misstep might then lead to what humanity has feared since August 1945: a nuclear apocalypse on Planet Earth.

Ever since the Soviets acquired nuclear weapons of their own in 1949, strategists have wondered how and where an all-out nuclear war – World War III – would break out.

Asia Times / ABC Flash Point WW III News 2020.

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